Friday, 7 November 2014

Reaping the rewards of targeted training

Still playing catch up, so an account of my racing and training from mid September to mid October. Brief race reports since I have such a bad memory I can't remember a great deal about them, apart from usually the finish. And the cakes.

Keeping a Training Log

So after a promising race at Shelford, I was encouraged to continue along the same training path - namely gym sessions with short sharp bursts on the treadmill to finish. I'm now running sub 4min kilometres comfortably on the treadmill, usually doing 3km, with an emphasis on pushing hard on the last one. Writing this blog retrospectively, I am having to use my training log to check details - and not for the first time I am glad that I do record these details. Along with distances and paces, which I record for all training, as well as races, I usually put a brief note regarding how I felt, specifically relating to my ongoing injury/illness. Over the last 18 months I have tried a number of different tactics to minimise discomfort:

Altering distance:
At the end of last year I opted to slow down pace and try longer distance instead, but after the Stort 30 in October 2014 and then this year's London Marathon I went the other way and tried just shorter races.

Joining the gym and easing off the mileage:
This seems to have helped tremendously, but less miles under my belt leads to a slowing of pace as I hit the latter part of a race (less stamina) so it's all about getting a balance.

Running on an empty stomach:
I had no idea my fist was that big...
I am attempting not to eat anything at all before running, so going out first thing before breakfast if I can, and on race days, racing on an empty stomach too. I also now avoid coffee and instead drink ginger tea before a run, which is known for its stomach settling qualities.

Losing weight:
I have blogged before about this - I tried "No Junk July" and duly lost a fair bit, but (rather predictably according to a nutritionist I know) it soon came back on again in what I like to call "Thank God It's August!" I want to get down closer to my recommended running weight, which requires a loss of around two stone. I began my latest effort to lose weight - which I think is going to be a lot more sustainable - on the 12th October, and I will write about this in my next blog. I know, you can hardly wait...

Anyway, I record all these details in my training log to see if, over time, I can pick up a pattern. I now have a probable diagnosis and an appointment mid December with a specialist, so the end is hopefully in sight. Again, more on this in my next blog.

Tuesday Training Sessions

I have mentioned these before, but it's a point worth making I think - structured speedwork sessions led by a qualified coach are invaluable if, like me, your race times are important to you. Since I began running, I have often noticed a pattern between my speed and how often I attend these sessions - so I go whenever I can.

Value for money
Club membership fees are low anyway, but if you consider how much running coaches or personal trainers charge, then by comparison they become not just low but ridiculously low. In fact, because I save £2 per race entry fee as an affiliated club runner, I am actually better off than I would be were I not a member - and effectively then all the other benefits to being a club runner come free. Such as these weekly training sessions.

What you get
So okay, the coaching is not on a one to one level, but you do get:

1) an explanation at the start as to what the session is designed to achieve
2) the security of knowing your coach will ensure you are properly warmed up beforehand
3) a well thought out session based on sound coaching principles
4) a group of mixed ability but like-minded fellow runners who are all pushing hard
5) a proper warm down afterwards, with advice on post-run stretching
6) the chance to talk to the coach afterwards if you feel you need any specific advice

But more than anything, I find you run far harder than you might if you were to attempt to recreate the session yourself as part of your training schedule. Running with others encourages you to push harder than you might. Perhaps because there is someone of similar ability with whom you may share a friendly rivalry. Maybe because you will be more likely to ease off or do fewer reps if you are on your own (rather than in front of your club colleagues) when it starts to get hard. Which it will, if you're giving maximum effort.

Almost every time I have attended a Tuesday session, I have felt like stopping at the half way point. It is the second half that is therefore of most benefit to me personally, since I am then encouraged that I have managed to run hard despite already feeling exhausted, and this gives me the confidence to set a demanding pace at the start of a race knowing that, providing I am determined enough, I should be able to keep going. So much of running well is about belief and confidence, a fact I appreciate more and more with every passing race.

Examples of Tuesday speedwork sessions

23rd Sept
Timed Intervals (Pyramid)

Pyramid sessions = hard work
Although most of us of course have our watches to keep track of time, for this session we are listening out for our coach to blow the whistle. It's a great session for a group of mixed ability, since it's an out and back course, using part of our club 5km time trial route, and every runner (in theory) will get back to the start/finish line at the same time,

So you run hard for 30 secs, stop on the whistle, have a short recovery period, then on the whistle you run back. The aim is to run at the same pace so that you get back to the start line as the whistle goes again, signifying that it has taken you 30 secs. After a short recovery, you then run off again, this time for 60 secs, again a short break then hopefully 60 secs back. The process is repeated again for 90 secs (this one is tough - 90 secs seems to last forever, and you're convinced you've run too far to be able to hear the whistle!) So again, 90 secs back, then down to 60 secs out and back, and finally a 30 secs out and back. So 30-60-90-60-30 gives you the pyramid. I said finally, but this is just the first set - so a longer break this time, but then you repeat the whole process again. Which is the real killer.

Apparently we hadn't finished yet
So as with all of our speedwork sessions, the aim is to give maximum effort -- but you need to be realistic, because if you were to go off too hard for the first 30 secs run, you would be on your knees by the time the 90 secs run came around. So there is some pacing required, and I usually find this the hardest part of the session, learning how hard to push. I find it much easier to do one off all-out efforts followed by longer recovery periods - and that's the difference between reps and intervals (where the gap between runs is deliberately shorter to replicate that race-day feeling of running tired.)

My aim with these sessions is now to try to make sure I am still running as quickly at the end as I was at the beginning. With varied success - some days this goes better than others. I do always enjoy the last 30 secs burst though, safe in the knowledge that I no longer need to reserve energy for another run, and as such I try to replicate a sprint finish, purely because it's a good feeling when you're running at your fastest, and if you finish the session exhausted, you know it's done you good.

7th Oct
400 metre reps

Much more my sort of thing. All out for one lap of the track, a long enough break to recover, then off again. In the summer we use a track, but in winter (because there is no lighting at the school field) we have a route around the back of the leisure centre - which I admit I prefer to running on the grass, although there is a nasty slope right at the start. This session again has a half way point for a proper recovery, so it will be 5 x 400metres for one set, and the same again for the second half. As the month progressed, I felt myself getting stronger and stronger, perhaps as a result of the hard work at the gym. This was a good session for me.

21st Oct
Chapel Drive (paired efforts)

Not a technical term, just the road we use. Probably my favourite winter training session - this is a paired effort, where you and a team-mate run half each of a figure of eight course. So you run the first half, tag your team mate, and your recovery period is the time it takes them to complete their half, before they in turn tag you and you set off again. You each run 4 times, competing against all the other pairs. Again, a decent break at halfway, then another set of the same - although often changing something slightly, perhaps reversing who runs first or, as we did this time, running the route backwards. As in, the other direction. Not actually running backwards, which would be silly.

Something about running as part of a team makes you run faster, try harder. It was always the same for me at school, when, as a sprinter, my best event was always relay, which I loved. For this
No way I was missing this sesssion,
even if I had to come straight from work
particular week, I concentrated hard on my running form - aiming to forefoot strike rather than crashing down on my heels. To do so I try to lean forward ever so slightly. I am also practising increasing my cadence - the number of steps I take per minute. Generally speaking, the higher your cadence, the quicker you'll be. You want to aim to keep your feet landing under your body, and if you are leaning forward this will naturally then lead you into your next step. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to start with -- surely longer strides will help you cover the ground quicker -- but in fact, if your foot lands in front of your body this will actually act as a brake, and the proven most economical form is to keep those feet underneath your body if you can. When I get this right, it feels good - but it's not yet coming naturally, and the further I run, the more likely I am to slip back into bad habits. On this session though, with relatively short distances, I was able to maintain proper form pretty well, and felt quick.


Colchester Parkrun

So in between all this training, I began to make some progress with my race times, albeit slower progress than I would have liked. I ran the Club Time Trial at the end of September with a slightly disappointing 20m24, which I had expected to go slightly better. The following Saturday I travelled back to Colchester to compete in what was my 50TH PARKRUN
Nice shirt, but one of us is going the wrong way
You get a T-shirt for reaching this milestone: unfortunately not actually on the day, and I have since learnt they are out of stock - but I'll get one eventually. But I did get a mention from the race director before the start, which was nice. It's always good to return to my "home" parkrun, where I have a lot of good friends who run regularly, and although the run itself wasn't great, I never really expect a great time there because of the big hill (which you do twice) - and it's more about the social side of things, and the cafe afterwards.

Abington 10km

Far more encouraging was my performance at this is a great local race, that always gets a good HRC turnout.
Fellow club runners Siobhan and Stephen at Abington
I'd never done it before, but had heard good things about it, and I was very grateful to Charlotte for looking after Harry whilst I ran. This was my first attempt at racing with no breakfast and it seemed to help, with minimal discomfort meaning I could concentrate on keeping up a decent pace throughout. In the end I got 42m23, my second quickest 10k and only just over half a minute outside my PB. It was great to have my two favourite people cheering me in, and nice to then stay on and cheer in our other club runners.

Nowton Parkrun and Saxon Five Mile

The following weekend Charlotte and I ran our local parkrun, with my aim to get under 21mins for the first time there. I am still learning how best to run this course, a two lap route almost all on grass (except for a short woodland section) so I doubt I'll ever get a great time - but it's good strength/stamina training, and at least it's fairly flat - just one slight incline at the start of each lap. I came in at 20m59, so bang on target - and 20th place, so things beginning to improve.

Next up was the Saxon 5 - a key race for me since it was the next in the Suffolk Grand Prix series, and a half decent performance was likely to see me move up a bit in my age category.

Annoyingly I was still 39 when the series began, back at the Stowmarket HM in March, and so although for the remainder of the series I have been 40 years old, I have had to compete in the 18-39 category for this year's competition.

Struggled to find a relevant picture of the race. So here's a
Saxon 5 Module, complete with Heating Unit
I came in 11th in my category, with a decent enough time of 35m02. Since I was hoping to get around 35mins, or 7min mile pace, this was fine - especially since it involved a fair bit of running on grass, which always slows me down (as it would most people,) I think almost a mile to start with was around the field that the Saxons Running Club own, and the finish also used this field, and with a small woodland section too, this was fairly described as "multi-terrain." I remember one particularly annoying stretch which ran down a lovely straight flat road, but because there were no pavements, for safety reasons we had to stick to the grass verge. My off-road running is improving, no doubt down to the core-strengthening work at the gym, and the occasional foray into Ickworth Park on training runs with Charlotte, as well as the Nowton Parkruns mentioned above  - but I will always chose road races if I can, and I suspect on a 5 mile road race now I would get close to my pb, if not beat it. I shall find out on 23rd November at the Hadleigh 5, although there are hills to factor in there.

So this result was enough to secure 3rd in our club Grand Prix, and puts me up to 4th in my Suffolk GP category, with one race remaining (the aforementioned Hadleigh 5.)

The End Bit

All of which takes me up to 20th October, the date when I saw an NHS physiotherapist who gave me some good news - and where I shall leave this blog, since I'm aware it's already gone on far too long. Next blog should see me catch back up to the present day, with the aim to then write shorter and more regular, hopefully weekly posts. The aim is to always write about my running in an honest way, and to share the bits of knowledge I have picked up from the many experienced runners I am lucky to know, in addition to the things I read in Runners' World Magazine, or in some of the excellent running books out there (currently close to completing "Born to Run," which I would highly recommend.)

I am aware that the main title I chose for this blog is "Competing for Fun." Sometimes it may seem like I over-complicate things, think (way) too much about my running, and this is a comment I often get from friends and club colleagues. I must remember that the reason I first chose to run was for enjoyment, and sometimes I have been guilty of losing sight of this, especially (naturally) when I'm not achieving the times I want.

Important to remember, running is sometimes about simply
having fun with good friends. Parkrun encapsulates this perfectly.
But finally, I am back thoroughly enjoying my running again, and I can feel I am on the verge of breaking pbs on a regular basis, as I get fitter, stronger, leaner, etc. The enjoyment for me has always come simply from hitting targets, and the great feeling this gives me. But more recently, and this will be the main theme of my next post, I am finding I am enjoying the process of getting there too. Running is more than just a hobby for me - it is an integral part of my life: it helps regulate my mood, it gives me a feeling of self-worth (when I get it right!), it's how I met Charlotte, and I have made plenty of friends along the way too - so without wanting to sound over the top (too late?) it's a massive part of who I am.

I am trying to channel the knowledge I have picked up into something very positive, using it to inform my training, and to achieve my potential as a runner. I have become much better at being realistic about specific races, based on how training is going, what the course is like, and what my health/injury situation is. So I try very hard not to beat myself up when I have an off day. But I am confident there is a lot more left in me - there are runners older than me who are far quicker - and I know I am yet to peak.

As always I am extremely grateful to everyone who takes the time to read my ramblings - and for the kind words from some of you who claim to actually quite enjoy them. 

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